Merkel, Hollande Said to Re-Engage With Putin on Ukraine

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin plan to talk by phone this weekend to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, a German government official said Friday.

The European leader’s first three-way conversation with Putin since June 22 would chime with signals by Merkel and Hollande that they are stepping up efforts to engage on Ukraine after Europe dealt with Greece’s financial crisis in July. The next four-way meeting, which would also include Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, may be held in Paris, Hollande said Tuesday, without setting a date.

While the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine is far from resolved, Putin showed he can be constructive in the talks that led to the Iranian nuclear accord and because he didn’t exploit Greece’s financial woes, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing German government deliberations.

“We have so many international problems to tackle that it would be desirable to return to constructive cooperation” with Russia, Merkel said Thursday in a speech in Vienna. “We saw with the Iranian agreement that an accord with Russia is possible. We hope that Russia can also play an important role with a view to Syria.”

With fighting still under way in eastern Ukraine, Merkel said conditions aren’t right for lifting economic sanctions on Russia, which the European Union first imposed after Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year. Still, “we naturally want to to get the political environment back to a state where sanctions can be lifted,” she said.

Without Putin

Germany’s position on sanctions is unchanged and the reasons that led to them remain in effect because the truce accord for Ukraine, co-signed by Putin in February, hasn’t been fully implemented, Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, said at a government news briefing Friday.

With the cease-fire faltering, Merkel and Hollande met Poroshenko in Berlin on Monday. “We will hold talks with the Russian president when we have the impression that it’s necessary,” Merkel said afterward.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister synonymous with reunification of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, said last week that the West should reach out to Russia, not alienate it with sanctions.

It’s time to move beyond the “old politics of confrontation” and seek a fresh start with Russia, he said in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

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